Two Israeli boys stoned to death; Sharon says Arafat no longer partner |

Two Israeli boys stoned to death; Sharon says Arafat no longer partner


JERUSALEM (AP) – Two Jewish teen-agers – one an immigrant from Maryland – were beaten to death with rocks in a West Bank cave after skipping school to go hiking. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Wednesday he held Yasser Arafat personally responsible.

The boys’ bodies were found around dawn Wednesday in a cave in the Judean Desert. The walls of the cave were covered with blood, reportedly smeared there by the killers, who dipped their hands in the teen-agers’ blood.

Sharon blamed Arafat for the killings, saying the Palestinian leader was doing nothing to stop attacks on Israelis and was not a partner for peace.

Asked about the slayings, Arafat responded by saying Palestinian children have been victimized by Israel. He cited a 3-month-old Palestinian girl who was wounded Wednesday when she was hit in the head with a piece of shrapnel in an Israeli shooting attack on a Gaza Strip refugee camp.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the killings ”horrible, brutal,” adding, ”Our chief concern at this point is to be in touch with the families.” And Pope John Paul II said in Malta that he was saddened by ”news from the Holy Land of terrible violence even against innocent young people.”

Soldiers wrapped the bloodied bodies of Kobi Mandell and Yossi Ishran in tarps and tied them to stretchers to carry them from the cave up the rocky slope of Wadi Hariton, a dry riverbed about a half mile from the boys’ homes in the Tekoa settlement.

Yossi was 14, and Kobi was a month shy of his 14th birthday, his grandmother Marilyn Lederman said in New York.

Israel’s Channel Two TV said police believed there were at least three assailants who dipped their hands into the boys’ blood after the killing and smeared it on the walls of the cave. The killers remained in the cave for a considerable time after the slayings, the report said.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish volunteers wearing white gloves searched the cave for remains Wednesday, scraped blood off a wall and overturned bloodstained rocks. Jewish law say all remains must be collected for burial.

Kobi and Yossi left home Tuesday morning, but instead of going to school had stopped at the Tekoa grocery to buy provisions for their secret wilderness hike.

Only one friend knew about their plans. Their parents were not alarmed when the boys did not return in the afternoon, believing they had gone to an anti-government protest in Jerusalem, said Yossi’s mother, Rina, a nurse.

When the boys weren’t home at midnight, the parents alerted security forces. Searchers found the bodies at daybreak.

Eighteen Palestinians were arrested, including several shepherds. Israel’s Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the killers would be tracked down one by one.

Police spokesman Rafi Yaffe said it appeared the boys were killed in a chance encounter. He said it was not clear whether the killings were linked to the theft of dozens of goats from Tekoa in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Kobi’s family immigrated to Israel from Silver Spring, Md., in 1996 and settled in Tekoa two years ago. About 40 of Tekoa’s 250 families are from the United States. Kobi’s father, Seth, a rabbi, once headed the Jewish students’ organization Hillel at the University of Maryland. His mother, Sherri, is a free-lance writer.

Recent photographs showed Kobi wearing a light blue baseball cap and flashing a shy smile. In another snapshot passed around by mourners Wednesday, Yossi, an innocent-looking boy with wire-rimmed glasses, posed next to a portrait painted for his Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish rite of passage into adulthood.

Sharon said he was revolted by the killing. ”It was a heinous deed in which children were intentionally attacked,” Sharon said.

Asked whether Arafat was still a potential negotiating partner, the prime minister said that ”anyone who causes the killing of Israeli citizens cannot be a partner.” If violence stopped, Israel would be ready to resume peace talks, Sharon said.

Jewish settler leaders demanded that Sharon declare Arafat an enemy of Israel and work to bring down the Palestinian Authority.

In the Gaza refugee camp of Rafah, meanwhile, 3-month-old Reema Ahmed was hit in the back of the head by a small piece of shrapnel, Dr. Ali Musa said.

The girl’s mother, Aida, 25, said she was at home with her daughter when Israeli troops began firing at the camp with machine guns mounted on tanks. ”A bullet hit the door and then other bullets entered the house,” she said.

The army said troops were responding to an anti-tank grenade Palestinians fired at an Israeli patrol in the area. Palestinian witnesses said troops also razed a Palestinian police outpost in the camp.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops staged three separate incursions into Palestinian territory, including a foray into the eastern edges of Gaza City with tanks and bulldozers that razed farmland, Palestinian police said.

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